Грабой Нина (Nina Graboi)
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Burning incense scents Nina Graboi's snug little apartment high on Beach Hill in Santa Cruz, offering a welcome contrast to the drizzling gray day outside. Pothos vines snake around the walls and ceilings, highlighting Hindu artifacts, tapestries and Latin American artwork. Speaking softly with an Austrian accent, Nina outlines a life that weaves through concentration camps, wealthy suburbs, Woodstock and Timothy Leary's living room. The week after our interview, she is headed to a conference in Kalamazoo, Mich., with 30 other leaders of the consciousness-raising movement--including Laura Huxley, Ram Dass and Albert Hofmann, the scientist who discovered LSD.
I WAS BORN in Vienna right after World War I. When I was about 19, Hitler came and took Austria over. I fled, but we were stopped in Casablanca and herded into a concentration camp in the desert. In this camp, in this desolate desert, the sun was burning down, and the hygiene was deplorable. But in the evening, we would set up crates and serve tea and would pretend we were drinking from the finest porcelain. I regarded everything as an adventure and as temporary. That may be one of the characteristics that has kept me young.
We came to New York as penniless refugees and became quite successful. I was living what people saw as the glamorous life. I was the woman who had everything. But all these things we were supposed to strive for seemed meaningless to me. It was in the early '50s and I was 34 and I began searching. It was the Eisenhower era, and I was alone in my search. Then one time I went to a seminar given by a Tibetan teacher, and I connected with some people who met once a week to talk about the very questions that have become my life.
Timothy Leary and I became good friends. It wasn't what he taught me, but his courage. I see Timothy and Ram Dass as the two most important men of this century. The world that I grew up in had this concrete wall between what you can see and hear and the unseen world that lies behind the senses, and there was Timothy punching holes in that wall. For that I am forever grateful.
I was 47 when I smoked marijuana for the first time; then later I took LSD. But I spent 12 years preparing for these sacred experiences. The reason the authorities were so scared by Leary and LSD is they knew that people wouldn't be the good little sheep that they were meant to be.
I always thought 60 was the age when I would call it quits--but it's amazing how wonderful the last 20 years have been. What I want to tell younger women who are afraid of aging is to not take themselves so seriously. I call my body "the space suit." It's what I'm wearing while I'm on this planet. If my space suit ages, I'm not attached, so I can watch it go through its changes. I know I'm eternal, undying and unborn, as we all are.
I was always the older wise woman and I have always cherished it. My friends would see me as the older lady and I never resented it. I'd like to be young and beautiful, but at what price? Why cheat myself out of one part of life that is as important as another?
I love these times. I'm passionately involved in the human species. I celebrate life.
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